Power Trumps People
February 10th, 2011
Unless we start paying attention, the largest city in Tennessee will officially become the isolated island many in the state consider it to be. Our own suburban state legislators are setting Memphis adrift, blinded by their ambition and working in the interest of a political party rather than the people of Shelby County.
If you do big harm to 70% of yourself, the other 30% is in for a big hurt.
As published in The Daily News, February 11, 2011, and in The Memphis News, February 12-13, 2011
IN THE NEW MATH, 30% IS MORE THAN 70%
Fellow I know who worked for S.C. Toof & Co. back in the sixties told a good story about the use of power. Then the company was family owned and the largest printing operation around these parts. Mr. Toof fancied himself a broad-minded leader, open to suggestion and reform. The company's leadership would meet weekly to discuss issues and vote on policy. In one such session, Mr. Toof proposed a change. During discussion, it became apparent that everyone else hated the idea. He called for a vote. "All in favor," he said, and his hand was the only one raised. "All opposed," he followed, and every other hand went up. "Now," he said, sternly surveying the room, "let's weigh the votes."
Shelby County's suburban Republicans have decided if the vote on city school charter surrender doesn't go their way, they'll weigh the votes.
In an unprecedented show of special interest legislation and narrowly targeted repression, they have marshaled the forces of an entire state to stomp Memphis. The interests of 30% of Shelby County residents will supersede those of 70% of the population, and the state laws they are passing will apply only here, and will only become law if city voters surrender the charter.
The new law calls for special school districts in Shelby County, and only Shelby County, the avoidance of which was the very reason the city school board voted to surrender the charter.
Further, the law will establish a 21-member transition commission, 15 of whom will be appointed by Republicans or suburban officials. While the Governor and the speakers of the Senate and House will appoint seats, the Mayor of Memphis won't have one.
Every citizen of Tennessee should be outraged when the minority of elected officials from any one county can manipulate state law to hammer the majority interests of that county into submission.
This isn't just about schools; this is about the burying of your rights by the heavy hand that holds the shovel.
And the rich irony is that the party doing this is all about smaller, less-intrusive government, unless, of course, you're up to something the rich don't like.
I can't think of any more dangerous precedent for this new legislature to set than the micromanagement of one county's affairs to suit a political agenda. If they can do that to us, they can do it to any county that dares to differ with that agenda.
With all the problems Tennessee faces, the most coordinated, rapid response effort our legislature has come up with is to rewrite state law to favor suburban voters in just one county. Couldn't education as a whole in Tennessee – pre-school through reform of the regents system in higher education – benefit more from that kind of concentrated legal brainpower rather than just the well-heeled in Shelby's burbs?
There are 95 counties in Tennessee, and right now it's 94 against 1. That's not a fair fight.
I'm a Memphian, and we shouldn't stand for this.